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Last week, a federal court upheld a Florida state law that states only licensed professionals can charge clients for dietary advice, the Associated Press reports. This comes after Florida-based “health coach” Heather Del Castillo challenged the law in court after she was issued a cease-and-desist order and a fine for practicing without a license back in 2017. She pushed back on the state’s law, claiming that her advice to clients fell under her right to free speech.
Del Castillo’s case highlights the fact that different states have varied regulations when it comes to who’s allowed to charge for nutrition tips. She was living in California when she started her business in 2015, and there was no issue because the Golden State does not require health coaches to have a license to charge clients for their services. When she moved to Florida, she fell into a different set of laws.
Her business, Constitution Nutrition, sold six-month health and nutrition programs that included 13 in-home consultations. Twelve of the sessions cost $95 each, according to Ars Technica. But in Florida, she wasn’t qualified to sell her guidance.
A 1988 state law called the Dietetics and Nutrition Practice Act (DNPA) requires anyone offering health coaching in Florida to be a licensed professional (a registered dietitian nutritionist, for example). In a bid to prevent “experts” from giving out untrustworthy advice, qualifications include a college degree in an applicable field from an accredited school, a minimum of 900 hours of Board of Medicine-approved education or experience, and passing a state licensing exam. Del Castillo’s sole qualification to give health advice is a certificate from the Institution for Integrated Nutrition, an unaccredited online school. But to be fair, at least that’s something.
The court clarified the law requires a license specifically for charging for personalized counseling or coaching, and that it’s fine for Del Castillo to give out advice for free.
For Del Castillo’s part, she doesn’t see why her lacking Florida’s specific qualifications makes her less of a professional. She took to Instagram to share her insight and to ask that people who don’t know her situation stop harassing her about it.
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You may have heard, I lost my case against the Florida Department of Health. This is where I take the opportunity to speak about kindness. Never in my life did I imagine I would check my Facebook private messages and see “fucking retard” be written accompanying a link to the story of my case. I know there are plenty of people who disagree with my stance. But to be called a liar, a charlatan, a “snake oil selling person”, and a “dangerous moron” is just beyond rude and sad. Two people even posted reviews on my Facebook page saying they do not recommend me even though they have never met me, they’d only read an article about my case. Someone went as far to say I was posing as a doctor. Are you freaking kidding me? What’s funny is that these people know nothing about how this case came about, the information I was disseminating, or why I’m fighting for free speech. People keep standing on the platform of saying I need the “proper education” and what’s ironic to me is that even if I did the 900hrs that are required in Florida (but not most other states) what I am promoting would not change. Only because I don’t follow this state’s mandates I’m suddenly spewing utter bullshit? Why do humans love to defile and vilify others? I just do not understand. Yet if I completed all the requirements, then continued on to promote the exact same health principles, I’d suddenly be credible and worthy of respect. Without it I’m deserving of hate speech and disrespect? ? I must be misunderstanding something about professional life in Florida. Don’t worry, I’m able to brush most of these comments and messages off fairly easily. But I will not hide away and not let people know how horrible our fellow citizens are. My husband reminded me that the support I do receive far outweighs the vile horrible people, and for that I am truly grateful. If you support me, even if you don’t know me well, thank you!
Whatever your stance is on Del Castillo’s particular case, it’s undeniable that certain qualifications prove a health and nutrition professional’s knowledge of the field. Countless online “fitness experts” offer personalized diet and exercise programs, and plenty of people seek the help of exercise and nutrition experts outside of the internet’s endless stream of fitness gurus. A surefire way to make sure your trainer or nutrition coach is legitimate is to check their licenses and certifications.